There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard. — Arundhati Roy
I’m coming forward today as one of the people Jake Appelbaum sexually assaulted. Last week I submitted my story to the anonymous site jacobappelbaum.net: I am “Sam”. Today, I am going public because like others who’ve spoken out before me, I am fortunate that my privilege shields me from some of the risks of public exposure. I have been involved in Tor for about a year and a half, and I met Jake shortly after joining and we became pretty close. Despite being a relative newcomer, I got highly involved in Tor quickly, and many of the anonymous victims do not have my established trust and visibility in the community, so today I am using my power to speak up for those who cannot.
Jake was my friend, and it took months to be honest with myself about what happened. As I recount in my previously anonymous story, when I approached him about it he would redirect the conversation to tell me why he was the real victim. He said anything else I’d heard about his behavior was part of a political smear campaign that, as his friend, I must help defend him against. He said what I’d experienced myself and seen him do to others were aberrations, and that he was a totally different person.
I began asking questions in the community to see who else had stories. What I heard was shocking — a pattern of violative and often violent behavior using manipulation, humiliation, ignoring boundaries, and outright coercion.
When my friend “River” shared with me (and a few trusted others) the details of how he raped her, and I knew things had to radically change. I and others took our stories to Shari Steele and other leadership at Tor Project.
Shari’s response, and the response of other leaders and members of our community, has been fair and appropriate. I am proud that our community confronted a difficult problem honestly and with strength.
I was troubled by some of the misguided defenses of Jake. People speaking up were dismissed as a lynch mob — an ahistorical and offensive way to describe a critical mass of people who had previously been silenced and were demanding accountability. There have been repeated calls for “due process” and the involvement of the court system, which ignores the violence that system perpetuates against both accuser and accused. Calls for police intervention are particularly alarming to hear from a community in which so many advocate for a stateless society. It turned out that one third-party account was mistaken, and people tried to use that mistake to cast doubt on multiple first-person accounts, many from trusted members of our community.
So let me recap where we are now. Seven people anonymously told their stories on jacobappelbaum.net. They included first-person accounts of Jake deliberately intimidating and shaming people, not taking no for an answer, undressing and sexually touching a person who was sleeping, and having sex in front of a group with a person who had repeatedly said no. Leigh Honeywell told how Jake violated her safeword during sex, humiliated her other partners, and made her feel scared. Violet Blue tweeted that he “hated and threatened me because I wouldn’t fuck him,” and that afterwards he tried to humiliate and bully her. Nick Farr described Jake angrily harassing him for days at 30c3, to the point where Nick never went back to CCC. Bill Budington tweeted that he “personally witnessed the testimony of “Phoenix”,” who had described being propositioned and humiliated by Jake at dinner, and Micah Lee replied “I did too.” Andy Isaacson tweeted “I’d question the judgement or honesty of anyone who knows Jake well and seriously doubts the veracity of those first-person stories.”
I want to thank everyone who has spoken up, either telling their own stories or in support of the stories of others. I hope our public solidarity will encourage even more to speak out against assault. People who feel comfortable sharing information about Jake’s conduct can contact Shari Steele, the executive director of Tor Project. You can reach her at email@example.com and her PGP key fingerprint is 69B4 D9BE 2765 A81E 5736 8CD9 0904 1C77 C434 1056.
How did we allow this to happen? We prioritized decentralization in our technology, yet allowed power to concentrate in one man who abused people for years. Jake’s behavior is representative of a systemic problem, grounded in a star culture that has allowed individual fame to overpower the ability of the community to recognize its collective needs. The “shut up and code” mentality creates a hostility to basic human empathy — talking about feelings, offering support, engendering individual and collective growth — which could have helped with accountability and prevention. Many people who wanted to be close to Jake’s fame enabled his abusive behavior. None of this is unique to hackerdom — but beware those who insist it can’t happen here. We should ask ourselves why those people didn’t feel safe speaking up sooner.
So what should we do now?
First and most importantly, Jake’s response to all this is not sufficient. His defensiveness betrays his hostility to our complaints. He said that whenever he has “inadvertently hurt or offended” people, he “[has] and will continue to, apologize.” That’s a non-apology. In the same statement, he decried “aggressive,” “unsubstantiated and unfounded” “vague rumors and smear campaigns” “spread[ing] vicious and spurious allegations,” and claimed that “the accusations of criminal sexual misconduct against me are entirely false.” (Note he only denied that he committed a crime, a dubious technicality.) He complained “the damage to my reputation is impossible to undo.”
Jake is putting the focus on himself. He doesn’t care about the people he has hurt. If he did, he would make a full and unreserved apology, and then take steps to make amends and figure out how to stop hurting people in the future. That’s not what he’s doing.
Rather than allow Jake to play the victim, we must put the focus on his actual victims, and come to terms with what has happened and what comes next. Many victims and allies have been advocating to create a model of transformative justice — a radical approach to problem-solving that recognizes the failures of the carceral system and attempts to bring about justice and peace through community-led non-violent action. Transformative justice identifies root causes and works toward comprehensive outcomes. It means support for both victims and the people who have done harm, while holding the harmful behavior to account. It demands open lines of communication and mechanisms to ensure that no single voice is given more power than any other. It prioritizes empathy and does not denigrate conflict as “drama”. Transformative justice means that people who care about Jake should reach out and hold him accountable, and support him seeking help if he’s willing to address the harm he’s done. It means separating the abuser from those he’s harmed, and creating preventive systems that teach people about consent, recognizing abuse, and creating mechanisms for reporting and responding to harmful behavior.
Moving forward together, here are specific steps our community could take next:
0. Jake must be excluded from all community activities as a precondition for healing.
1. We must believe victims, and continue to foster an environment where they feel safe to report their stories of abuse.
2. As a community, we continue to create mechanisms for:
2.1 teaching and learning consent awareness
2.2 abuse prevention and response, which includes systems of support and accountability
2.3 truth and reconciliation as a community
3. People who love Jake and want him to heal should make a support group for him. Those people should bear in mind that he has not apologized nor admitted to any wrongdoing, and they should hold him accountable for what he’s done.
I am invigorated by the networks of solidarity that have been formed as victims come forward — this community is full of brave, vibrant, relentless people working endlessly to realize our shared vision of freedom, and I am looking forward to the work we do next. I am grateful to the organizations that have already taken steps in response to the multiple substantiated allegations — Noisebridge, Cult of the Dead Cow, Freedom of the Press Foundation, and of course, my beloved Tor Project. I’ve never been prouder to be a Tor contributor; thank you, Shari, for believing victims, and to those members of Tor Project who are working to iterate the community we really want. Dozens more in our community have already reached out to me, and I’m eager to hear more about existing community-driven methods toward justice and reconciliation.
We build alternatives to oppressive systems, and we can build alternatives to interpersonal structures as well. Let’s be careful with each other so we can be dangerous together.
15 June 2016
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